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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Baby Steps

Lao Tzu once said, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step."

I, however, being one who has never heard of Lao Tzu and who doesn't really care what he said, prefer to say it in a way that pays homage to one of the best movies ever made:

If you are someone who sees the meme above and has no clue what it means or why it's funny, you probably want to just stop reading now, because you and I, we'll never see eye to eye. For everyone else, you know this is Bill Murray in one of the funniest movies of all time, "What About Bob."

Bill Murray, in this movie, has to remind himself (audibly) to take "baby steps" to get through every uncomfortable situation he encounters. Obviously this puts a damper on his social life, as he's the guy audibly telling himself "baby steps." Hence the hilarity of the movie. But I digress...

Lao said a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. First off, while that is technically true, it's a rhetorical statement. DUH! Of course a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. So does a journey of one mile. That's just dumb.

Anyways, aside from that, I also tend to think it's not a very accurate depiction of the realities we face throughout life's journey. Journeys that seem difficult, unknown, or even frightening, don't require a single step to guarantee carefree travels. I think they require EVERY step that's taken, because each and every step is a statement. A moving forward, toward something, in spite of the difficulty or questions or fear.

How do we usually begin journeys like these? With baby steps.

I remember when my kids were each learning to walk for the first time; it was always such a proud-mama moment. With my oldest, our daughter, we couldn't wait for her to start taking her first steps. I am pretty sure my husband and I shoved her toward each other a few times around the age of three months and claimed that she was the youngest human to walk, ever. She started walking, in reality, around 10 months old, and from that moment she was into everything. Everything. She was always headed somewhere, but she never got there fast, because she was taking baby steps. The journeys took her a while; she never slowed down, though, and never gave up, and she ultimately reached her destinations. Then, the more confident she got on her feet, the more quickly she strode, the more confidently she walked.

This is how we operate in our faith walk, isn't it? We're in the process of learning something new and God calls us out on a new journey. It always requires a first step, yes, but more than that, trusting and following His call requires baby steps. We set our minds on Him and walk with purpose toward that which He has called us. We walk slowly at first, trying to gain our footing, but the more we walk toward the prize, toward HIM, the more steady we get on our feet, the more confident we grow in who He has made us to be and where He is calling us.

My family has been in the process of taking a crazy journey with God over the last year. Almost one year ago the Lord very clearly showed my husband and I that our daughter's heart for the hurting world was tender, and that we were to take that tenderness and use it to help mold her into someone who has a deep love for mankind. Through a series of events God very clearly showed us that we were to take on a project with her this year. After praying about it with her, and after talking with a close friend who does ministry in Romania, we felt like God was making it clear that we were to help Emerson take on the challenge of raising money to build a playground for 300 Gypsy children in Romania.

INSERT MANIACAL LAUGHTER HERE (because laugh, I DID, when my friend told me that this was what God showed her that Emerson should do).

I was kinda thinking early on that maybe we'd have a coat drive for the Gypsies, or maybe collect some money to buy them bread. But no, as is usual with the Lord, His plans were bigger and more purposeful.

My friend, Mihaela, who works with the Gypsy people, felt that a playground in this specific Gypsy community would go far beyond clothing or bread to communicate the love and mercy of Jesus Christ; she had prayed for a playground to be built there for 7+ years. And we were the ones to build it and raise almost $14,000.

Three people. Two worn out parents and a six-year-old. It still sounds funny to me.

But we felt that we heard God clearly, so what did we do?

Baby steps.

We had a family car wash for our first fundraiser. I think our neighbors pitied us because it rained and we raised our first $300.

Baby steps.

Emerson made rubber band bracelets. She sold many, and one for $6000.

Baby steps.

A local elementary school's after-school Christian club heard about our project and wanted to get involved. Over 100 kids, grades kindergarten through fifth, raised well over $1000 for our playground.

Baby steps...getting bigger.

Emerson painted and sold Christmas ornaments. She sold several and raised almost $1000.

Steadier still.

Our church got involved and held two events within the children's ministry to help us raise money. Almost $1500 was raised by a bunch of five and six-year-olds.

The pace picks up.

Friends and family donated ridiculous amounts of money to help fund our trip to Romania. We leave in two days to take Emerson to go and see the playground come to life, to build it with her own hands. To play with Gypsy children to see that they are, in fact, just like her. To carry the light and love of Jesus to a hurting people by showing them that they are valued and loved and worthy of something like a brand new playground in their dirty, dusty, destitute community.

And we're running.

Running toward the plan and purpose of the Father. Running toward Him. Running with arms wide open to embrace those who are forgotten and pushed aside. Running toward a hurting world. Running.

It should have been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with baby steps. Because baby steps are how we grow, how we learn to walk. Baby steps are where our confidence is grown, our faith is matured, and His faithfulness is proven.

Whatever God is calling you to, I encourage you, lock your eyes on the goal and set out. Not having all of the answers. Not completely fearless. Not running.

Set out and take baby steps. Move. Allow Him to show Himself faithful to you. Because He will always do it. Every single time.

It may not always be a playground in a poor country. In fact, it probably won't usually be a playground in a poor country. But it will be what He has for you, and for me. And each and every time He calls, I pray that we will take baby steps in obedience toward that which He has prepared for us.

Lastly, baby steps can be a funny thing. When your first baby starts to walk you record every moment of the process and cheer on your little one with great anticipation. By the time baby number three rolls around and you've realized what complete chaos ensues when your precious little one learns to walk, you *might* find yourself swiping said baby's legs out from under him when he attempts to walk just to make sure he stays immobile for a little while longer. It's either that or duct tape.

Feel free to laugh!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Grace and Scarlett

If I'm honest with you (and I always am), my life has been comprised, so far, of many-a-series of unfortunate events. This is not to say my life has been completely unfortunate; quite the opposite, actually. I have really enjoyed navigating my way through my 31+ years. I just happen to trip and fall from one phase of life into another, usually without finesse, and usually in front of lots of people.

I always get where God wants me to go, but I'm not exactly elegant or discreet about it.

Some people seem to float through life so skillfully, don't they? Quiet and demure, always saying and doing the right thing. Always socially acceptable and well-mannered. Life's a breeze for those people, or so it seems to those of us who belong to a clumsy band of misfits who stumble through life somewhat awkwardly.

For the sake of visual aids, let's refer to those floaters as "Grace." As in, Grace Kelly.

I mean, stunning, right? Ladylike...polished...charming? She wasn't named Grace for nothing.

Then there's me, and maybe you, too. We're the misfits. The foot-in-the-mouth, loud-talking, accident-prone, somewhat-awkward misfits. The ones I affectionately refer to as "Scarlett."

Why Scarlett, you ask? It's very simple: you have Grace (above), and then you have Scarlett:

You remember this. I know you do. If you don't, then you're probably named Grace and you probably only watch cable news channels and spend your time on intelligent things.

We misfits remember this as when poor Scarlett Johansson tripped and fell in NYC in front of the paparazzi. When she fell in literally the most strange way possible. And they captured it on film. And now it's a national treasure.

Grace, if you had been watching Entertainment Tonight religiously when it happened, you'd have seen it too.

Scarlett got more publicity for her "have a nice trip, see ya next fall" than she has for any movie role in recent memory. She was all over the internet, and soon there were more photoshopped pictures of her than the Grumpy Cat. Here are a few of my favorites:

We're laughing with you, Scarlett.

These pictures remind me of the times when this Scarlett (that's me) crashed and burned. You know, like the time when I was walking on stage in front of, say, a couple thousand people and I tripped over an empty guitar case and fell on my stomach right before I had to sing? Or that time when the tread peeled off of my super-fly platform heels on Easter Sunday and I didn't know it and I walked down the main aisle of my 5000-member church only to slip and fall, again on my stomach, this time in an Easter dress? Or maybe like the time I was seven months pregnant and I fell down the basement stairs and had to be hospitalized for my clumsiness? Or like...well, you get the idea.

Oh, Scarlett.

What about the time when I was fighting a deep depression and I couldn't claw my way out and I was stumbling around the darkness, falling again and again and again? And I stumbled in my walk of faith, and I didn't know if I believed. And I entertained doubts about the One person who has always proven consistent and true in my life.

God refined me through that season, and I walked into a more mature relationship with Him after the battle, but I'm not without scars. I stumbled my way from childlike faith into a deeper walk, but it was messy. It took a pursuant God and Prozac. I wasn't Grace.

What about the time when I was so insecure about my physical self that I indulged an eating disorder and a mind disorder to "fix" myself? When I stumbled into an exercise addiction that had a grip on me like nothing ever has, when I chose superficial beauty and unattainable perfection over an internal, eternal radiance. I wanted to be Grace, but instead I was going down like Scarlett.

God reached down and pulled me out of what could have been incredibly damaging to me, emotionally and physically, but I am not without my fair share of wounds. I tried to make myself acceptable instead of allowing Him to love me as I was.

What about the moments, even now, when my selfishness overtakes my servanthood and I sin against my children and my husband because I care more about me than them? I stew in anger and relive the injustices of being used and disrespected over and over again, all the while building my case for why I "deserve" a break, deserve better. Then I see myself for the horribly selfish sinner that I am and I repent and vow to give myself away just as Christ did for His church. And then one of my children disrespects me and I begin to simmer again.

Grace would make homemade cookies every day and never respond in anger and always respond with a sing-song voice to her little rascals. But I am not Grace; I'm Scarlett. I fall and I fail time and again.

But here's the thing I keep coming back around to: if I were Grace, I don't know that I'd need my God like I do when I'm Scarlett. Grace doesn't need to be picked up and dusted off to try again; she simply doesn't fail in the first place.

I am Scarlett. I stumble and fall. I grow weary. I'm sad. I'm selfish.

I'm a sinner.

And I'm in need of a Savior.

With Him, I can walk freely as Scarlett, knowing that even when I crash and burn my God will be right beside me, gently picking me up, dusting me off, and setting my feet back on the road toward Heaven. I will not be Grace this side of Heaven, but if I need God and I know God I am saved.
"The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in His way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand." -- Psalm 37:23-24
I'd rather be Scarlett, stumbles and all. At least we Scarletts know how much we need a perfect Father. And I rest in knowing that I will be Grace, the epitome of beauty and perfection,  the moment I set foot in eternity.

Finally, my disclaimer: just so you know, Scarlett Johansson was not harmed in the writing of this blog post. Seriously, she doesn't even know who I am. And she's mega-rich and she probably sopped up her tears with her wads of cash when she fell. And so I don't feel bad about posting this last picture...this goes out to all my Scarletts out there:

Feel free to laugh!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Let It Go

I have wanted, pretty much for my entire life, to be a Disney princess.

I will pause while you get your inappropriate laughter out...

Now, by "be a Disney princess," I don't mean this:

Can we all agree that grown women dressing up like sexy Disney characters is kind of weird and slightly narcissistic? And that we are all incredibly jealous that they are hot enough to do so? Yes, and  yes.

I wasn't into costumes; I just wanted to be the voice of a Disney princess. The one singing the songs and giving life to a 2-D compilation of hand-drawings or computer images. I was pretty sure I was born to be Ariel. And Belle. And Jasmine. And...

Now that I have children of my own, I get to watch the movies and hear the music again, and I find myself singing along all over again without missing a word or beat.

Understanding my deep love for all things Disney princess, you might be surprised to hear the following statement: if I have to hear "Let It Go" (from "Frozen") one more time I am going to lose my ever-loving mind. Like, seriously, I might have to be committed.

A song I once loved now grates on my nerves like listening to my daughter talk like a baby (that's a lot). Idina Menzel's (or should I say Adele'll laugh if you understand) voice that first made the song sound unique and powerful now sounds like nails on a freaking chalkboard, and I think my eardrums are going to burst if I have to listen to that infamous high note one more time.

And this is not even to mention Demi Lovato's pop version which is just...just...there are no words. She sounds like she's from the lineage of Britney Spears (this is not a good thing, vocally-speaking) and she just annihilates the beauty of that song.

Nothing has changed about the song; it's my heart that's changed. It has grown cold toward Frozen (pun intended). The first 1876 times I heard the soundtrack I loved it. It was the 1877th time that did me in. Something snapped. There are only so many times one can listen to the same song and to a carload of kids singing it at the top of their lungs before one loses that loving feeling.

I need to hear anything, everything, else, to cleanse my ears and my mind from that song. My Bruno Mars station on Pandora is usually my go-to for some audio-therapy, which is what I am listening to as I write this post.

All of these venomous feelings aside, though, I love what the lyrics of "Let It Go" talk about. In the movie, Elsa is a woman who has felt trapped for years in her own skin, who has felt terrified of showing her true self. She finally has enough of her bondage and throws caution to the wind so she can walk in freedom and without facade.

Do you ever feel like Elsa? Like you have to hide the parts of you that might scare other people, that might show weakness or vulnerability or pain or flaw?

Me neither.

Ok, I feel this way pretty much every day. My pride makes it difficult for me to walk in freedom. Who wants to expose themselves, to be their true selves, at the risk of others finding out that they are not perfect, that they don't have it all together?

Don't let them in / Don't let them see / Be the good girl you always have to be / Conceal, don't feel / Don't let them know...

It's easy to keep others at arm's length, isn't it? To keep the peace, to make sure we don't ruffle any feathers, to conceal so that no one knows what a mess we are. But then we're living as prisoners in our own bodies. And then we find we're living lives that aren't real. And then we aren't really known by anyone.

We all long to be known, don't we?

There is good news, friends! We were made to be known by our Creator, our Heavenly Father, who is all-knowing and knows every single bit of us, even the inner-most, nastiest, most broken parts.
"Oh Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways...Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?" -- Psalm 139:1-3, 7
There is NO hiding our true selves from Him; He sees it all. This truth would terrify me if it were the end of the story, but praise GOD, it's not! He doesn't just know us; He actually loves us, in spite of us! Check this out:
"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person -- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die -- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." -- Romans 5:6-8
Isn't that freeing? Even if we wanted to conceal ourselves it would be impossible with Him, and even though He sees our dirty and grimy hearts, He loves us fully and without condition. He loves us so much that His Son was sent to die a painful, humiliating death for us, for the bad girls!

With this truth in mind, let's take things a step further: did you know that God made us, not just for HIM to know us, but for others to know us intimately?

Did you know He didn't make us to do life alone, to keep people at arm's length and to carry our burdens, our secrets, and our failures in a secret pouch, all under the facade that we're good girls who have our junk together?

It's exhausting to pretend, isn't it? And yet pretend we do, and often. As women, it's something we are profoundly good at. And it's just plain wrong. And it's damaging. And it's exhausting.

I don't know about you, but I am to the point in my life where I don't have the time or the patience to halfway do relationships with other women. I simply can't do the surface-level thing anymore. If that's what you're looking for in a friend, then keep on walking 'cause I'm not your girl.

I'm ready to dig deep, to be real, to expose my true self to people who are ready to walk alongside me in my journey toward holiness and wholeness. And I'm ready to walk alongside people who are on the same track.

It's not easy; being real is the hardest thing to do in the face of a culture that applauds perfection. But it's worth it.

Let it go / Let it go / And I'll rise like the break of dawn / Let it go / Let it go / That perfect girl is gone / Here I stand in the light of day / Let the storm rage on / The cold never bothered me anyway...

Let's let go of the facades, let's embrace community and being fully known, and let's stand in the light.

Who's with me?

I know at least one person...

Feel free to laugh!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Money Is Funny

Money is funny.

See how I did that? Yeah, it's a clever rhyme 'cause I'm cool like that.

It's been a while since I've blogged, mainly because I've been working in my spare time to bring in some moola (that's slang for "money," once again expressing my inner street-self). Not that I don't work every day; I definitely do, I just don't get paid for it. Taking care of three kids and a household is the worst-paying job I've ever had; I just have to trust all those kind, well-meaning people who tell me not to "wish it away," that these are the "best years" of my life. Errrrr...right.

On top of homeschooling my daughter, taking care of the family, and singing for a living, I am now working for a friend of mine who hired me out of pity. It's been a great fit so far, and I'm thankful that I can work from home and on my own timetable.

All of that being said, money is tight around my house these days. Not the impossible kind of tight, but the we-must-pinch-pennies kind of tight.

I do NOT want to sound like I'm whining; nothing gets under my skin more than hearing a high-school or college student tell me how poor they are.

I recognize the lack of severity of our problems. We can pay our bills. We can take our kids to Chickfila. We can even take an occasional vacation.

We also drive 10-year-old cars and have a much-smaller-than-average home. We shop with coupons and we give a large portion of our income away.

And we are happy. And grateful.

Yet this lifestyle, in the context of American culture, seems modest. It seems like we are lacking in comparison with The Joneses. We are "poor" because we can't sign our kids up for every activity they ask to participate in. We can't buy new clothes every season and we shop at Goodwill. We live on a budget.

And sometimes, when I'm weak and vulnerable and worn down, I pity myself.

Then there's this. This is what the rest of the world refers to as poverty:

Does this make you uncomfortable?

It should.

It makes me uncomfortable, and it makes me feel ashamed. Ashamed for all of the times when I have complained over my lot in life. Over my middle-class dream-of-an-existence.

I hear myself saying things like, "we don't really have any room in our budget to cut back on anything." And I want to throw up.

I hear myself say, "gosh, I wish I could make something good for dinner, but my grocery budget is gone for the month," so we have to make do with mac and cheese and frozen veggies. Oh, the horror.

My kids ate GMOs at each of their THREE MEALS today. God forbid.

I have to work some overtime to pay for a budgetary splurge. What an injustice!

And I am sick of myself. I am sick of this mindset. I am sick of this culture.

I am sick.

Many of the people who are poverty-stricken are sick, too. They're sick in body. But they're more often than not rich in spirit.

How is this possible?

Because money is an idol, money is an obstacle, and it keeps us more often than not from experiencing God and experiencing joy. There, I said it.

We see money as the solution to all of our problems when in fact money is usually at the ROOT of all of our problems.

Some days I get so angry at my own sinfulness and selfishness that I just want to run for a third-world country to experience the joy that those people have IN SPITE of their situations.

Please hear my heart when I say this: sometimes I am jealous of them.

There's a story in the Bible, specifically in the book of Matthew, about a rich young man who has everything he will ever need materially. He comes to Jesus and asks him how he can have eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the ten commandments, and the young man, probably feeling very relieved, says, "oh, I've done that." He then asks Jesus what else he lacks, and Jesus tells him, simply, to sell all of his possessions and follow Him. The Bible says the young man went away sorrowful, because had some fabulous possessions and he just couldn't rid himself of those things. After he leaves, Jesus tells His disciples,
"Truly I say to you, only with difficultly will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."
What a terrifying, life-altering, important statement Jesus made in this moment! It's as though Jesus knew that money and stuff would become our ball and chain; imagine that!

I have been thinking on this a lot lately, on what it means to sell everything and follow Him. This might not mean to literally sell everything I have...but maybe it does. The point is, it's worth considering.

I don't have a fancy conclusion to this post, or some step-by-step action plan ready to engage. I am still in process. I am still sifting through my thoughts.

But something has to change in my heart, in my home, and in the homes of the Church.

We've got it all backward.